When Smart Decisions May Not Be Right Decisions

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Default image

“. . . welcome him as you would welcome me.” Philemon 1:17 (NIV)

Anyone who works in a business environment knows that daily life can bring tough ethical decisions. Most are small, some are large—but hardly a week goes by without a challenge to our belief systems. And while most decisions do not involve legal conflicts, often enough they bring us face to face with difficult ethical and spiritual issues.

A friend of mine once said, “Sometimes the smart thing to do may not be the right thing to do.” And I’ve often recalled this simple line during life’s many difficult decisions.

The book of Philemon is an interesting study in decision making. It seems that Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away and, while a fugitive, had run into Paul and heard the Gospel. On becoming a Christian, Onesimus was persuaded by Paul to return to Philemon, his lawful master.

Now Paul is writing Philemon to ask him to make the right decision. Philemon’s culture advises punishment for runaway slaves. The smart business decision would be to teach Onesimus a lesson he’ll not soon forget.

Paul, however, advises the opposite. He admonishes Philemon to receive Onesimus back, to accept him “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” This is a difficult request for Philemon. If he follows Paul’s advice, he stands to lose credibility in his community of fellow slave owners. If his decision becomes public, he may be considered an outcast—even a rebel.

Two thousand years later, it’s easy to see the big picture. But it must have been stressful for Philemon, and certainly it was not as clear cut as it seems to later readers of Paul’s letter. In the throes of decision-making, the future is rarely clear.

Let us pray then for what Paul wanted for Philemon, that God will guide us past the smart decisions to the right ones.

Author’s note: I thank Dr. David Stubblefield, whose reference to Philemon in a sermon, helped ignite the idea of using Philemon and Onesimus for this devotion.